NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 22, 2008

The Shell Foundation, partnering with Envirofit International at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has introduced the first market-based model for clean-burning wood stove technology to the developing world, says the New York Times.

The program is important because of the health problems cooking with solid fuels like wood, coal, crop residues and dung can cause:

  • Indoor air pollution, including smoke and other products of incomplete combustion like carbon monoxide, is a major environmental risk factor, usually ranking behind lack of clean water, poor sanitation and malnutrition.
  • The problem does not only afflict the poorest populations; many affluent households cook on traditional biomass stoves or open fires by choice or because they live in rural areas without electricity or access to modern fuels.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 million people a year die of health effects resulting from toxic indoor air.

The problem disproportionately falls on women and children who spend hours each day around the hearth:

  • Of that 1.6 million, one million children die of pneumonia, and 600,000 women die prematurely of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and emphysema.
  • In China, epidemiologic studies indicate that 420,000 people a year die because of indoor air pollution, 40 percent more than the premature deaths attributed to outdoor air hazards in the pollution-choked urban areas there.

Kirk R. Smith, an environmental health scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues recently completed a study of Guatemalans cooking on open fires versus improved stoves.  The researchers suggest additional health problems from indoor air pollution, including higher frequency of cataracts, partial blindness, tuberculosis, low birth weights and high blood pressure. They found that cleaner stoves had larger effects than reducing salt in the diet on lowering blood pressure in women.

Source: Amanda Leigh Haag, "Stove for the Developing World's Health," New York Times, January 22, 2008.

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